The Amazon rainforest is still burning, and it’s very sad. Here’s my SparkNotes version of the current situation: Although deforestation rates in Brazil decreased 75% between 2005 and 2014, rates of fires have dramatically increased after the election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, and have been linked to illegal logging. These fires threaten indigenous rights and threaten biodiversity — so activists are organizing to demand increased protections for the lungs of our planet.
That being said, let’s talk about economics! Or as I like to call it, the longtime scapegoat for governments and politicians refusing to take environmental action.
Petroleum, gold and timber are not the only lucrative industries fueled by the Amazon, despite what Bolsonaro may want everyone to think. Carlos Nobre, a leading climate scientist in Brazil, created the Third Way initiative, which is a push to see the biological assets of the Amazon as more valuable than the products that could be created through deforestation. In other words, the Third Way aims to promote a view of the Amazon as more valuable standing than destroyed.
In practice, the Third Way can take many forms. Some are medicinal: collaborating with local communities to share and cultivate plants involved in traditional medicine. For example, guaraná (Paullinia cupana) is a plant found in the Amazon with properties that can potentially treat Alzheimer’s, certain cancers and liver diseases. Plants in the Amazon hold endless medicinal potential, which could impact the lives of many people.
Some forms are agricultural: Carlos Andretti is a former cattle rancher in Mato Grosso, Brazil, who is regenerating previously deforested land using sustainable farming techniques. Andretti planted peach palms, coffee, teak trees, fruits and vegetables that regenerate soil. What’s most interesting about Andretti’s case is that his switch to sustainable farming was based on a purely economic rationale: since his land was too small for cattle, he needed to think creatively. Now, he’s making three times as much selling agricultural products than he would have raising cattle on the same amount of land.
Ecotourism is another strategy local people have used to make money while promoting conservation, both biological and cultural. Sacha Runa Ecolodge is run by a Kichwa Community in Yasuní National Park, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In this region, working for the petroleum industry is incredibly common, but ecolodges like Sacha Runa provide people with another opportunity.
Bolsonaro’s government is not the only factor implicated in the destruction of the Amazon: corporations like BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, JBS Beef, Cargill Soy, Walmart and Costco are just as responsible. It’s on us as global citizens to hold these corporations responsible for the destruction they cause by advocating for policies that will adequately regulate them.
My takeaway from all this is that while the current situation in the Amazon is bad, it does not have to be. Luckily, the fires aren’t yet threatening the heart of the forest, and luckily, large, untouched portions of the Amazon still exist — it’s not all gone! And it’s not too late to protect what’s still there.